Archaeology And Ancient History (VVC4): Selected Module Descriptions 2 and 3

Year 2

A special feature of the second year is the study tour abroad, a research project undertaken with financial support from the University. Further field training is also an option.

Artefacts and Material Culture

Artefacts and material culture lie at the heart of archaeological enquiry. Artefacts and materials provide us with dating evidence, exemplify ancient technologies, and offer insights into other ways of life, art, cognition and the materiality of human existence - practically and in terms of symbolic expression and sensory experience. Artefacts are also the primary media for representing the past in museums - a key point of contact for public engagement with cultural heritage. Archaeology is thus at the cutting edge of material culture studies, heavily influencing – and being influenced by – new approaches in anthropology, art history, heritage conservation and museology.

The module is divided into two sections. The first part charts the progress of artefacts “from mud to museum”; from their places of recovery to their final presentation in museum displays or curation in museum repositories. This will include discussion of on-site and lab-based finds management, curation, museum display methods (including innovative digital media), and the values, meanings and aesthetics of artefact presentation. The second part of the module examines current approaches to the interpretation of material culture in archaeology. The primary archaeological concern with understanding social life in the material world, and relationships between beliefs, knowledge, action and artefacts, are considered in relation to fundamental aspects of human existence such as technology, ritual, gender, age groups, cult, ethnicity and power.

The themes explored by this module are relevant to all periods of study and all parts of the world. By the end of the module you will be able to interpret material culture from a range of perspectives, and critically evaluate how past material worlds are recovered, curated, displayed and interpreted for modern audiences.

Mediterranean and European Archaeology

How and from where did Mycenae get its amber? What was the importance of salt from Austria? Why is there Classical Greek pottery and metalwork in central Europe? Why had Roman amphorae already overrun Gaul long before Caesar? The Mediterranean and Temperate Europe are often regarded as two separate worlds before they were forcibly united by Rome. But in fact there was always contact between the two regions and they impacted on each other in crucial ways. This module will look at the evidence (principally archaeological, some textual) for these interactions from the later Bronze Age through the Iron Age to the eve of the Roman expansion out of the Mediterranean. It will look at the evidence for how contact was driven by the needs for natural resources and for luxury items and how these were obtained and how control of access to these resources resulted in profound social changes visible in the evidence for activities such as trade, warfare, ritual and religion, feasting, coinage. The evidence will include fortifications, settlements, funerary practice and material culture, with an emphasis on the long-distance links.

Study Tour

The Study Tour gives students the opportunity to plan and undertake travel to various parts of the world (usually Italy, Greece, or Turkey) to visit sites, monuments and museums of particular interest to their degree programmes. Group work is key to the module: students plan, travel and present work as a group of (normally 2-6 students in a group).

Semester 1 is the is the tour preparation section. In groups, students decide where they are going to visit, choose individual research topics, plan a detailed and annotated itinerary including two weeks of Study Tour activity, prepare a preliminary bibliography (academic and practical) and present these as an illustrated report. In addition they prepare a preliminary version of the university Risk Assessment form. In the course of the teaching period of Semester 2, students will liaise with their academic supervisor on two to four occasions to optimise their academic understanding of what is to be visited before setting out.

In the Easter Vacation each group will undertake a 14-day Study Tour as outlined in their first illustrated report.

Some of our many optional modules include

Roman Britain and the Roman Army

Britain was one of the most heavily militarised of all the provinces of the Roman empire, with the garrison in the 1st and 2nd centuries comprising some 10% of the entire Roman army. Roman military archaeology in Britain has been a major focus of excavation and research over time, making Britain one of the most comprehensively studied military areas of the empire (and written about in English). Britain is thus an excellent case-study for looking at the Roman army, and equally military archaeology is one of the defining characteristics of the Roman period in Britain.

The course will begin by focusing on the army of the first and second centuries A.D., the period of conquest and consolidation and the building of the great northern frontiers such as Hadrian’s Wall. It will look at the types of unit, the fortresses and forts in which they lived, the conditions of service of the soldiers, pay, equipment, how such a huge force was supplied and sustained. It will then move on to look at the creation of the built frontiers in the North, Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall, using them as examples of wider trends in Roman military strategy and frontier development. The final part of the course will look at the third and fourth centuries, outlining the changes that took place in the army in Britain within the more general context of the ‘military crisis’ of the third century, and at the last of the great defensive systems in Britain, the forts of the Saxon Shore.

Pompeii and Campania

The focus of this module will be on the Italian cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, destroyed during the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79, and their region. It will examine the society, culture and religion of the cities through a range of literary, inscription and archaeological evidence. Students will be introduced to the problems that each of these types of material poses for the historian. The module will address many different aspects of life within the cities including public and private display; the demonstration of loyalty to the emperor and empire; elite patronage; religious cult; work at the cities; public entertainment including gladiators and public deviance; elections and governance. Additionally the module will consider the heritage management of the material remains at the sites and will address perceptions of Pompeii in popular culture (including for instance painting, film and TV, and popular novels). Comparisons will be drawn between the cities and their importance as examples of Roman urbanism more generally will be analysed. Relevant comparisons to other Italian cities will also be made. Finally, the module will consider what the cities can teach us about urban change during the Roman empire.

Catastrophes! Humans and Environments

This course aims to review a range of key issues in world archaeology and how environmental evidence can be used effectively to address, explain or clarify our past. Some say Environmental Archaeology is a discipline in trouble and is dying on its feet. It is either seen as ‘irrelevant’ when we explore issues of why human societies changed or is brought in as a sole explanation. The latter can include a range of ‘Catastrophe Theories’ such as volcanic eruptions, comet strike and disease-based ‘mega deaths’. This module takes the view that such an approach fails to appreciate the full range of information that environmental archaeology can produce beyond essential questions such as ‘what did they eat’ and ‘is this deposit poo or not’; and that there is a clear role for this discipline in terms of explaining and understanding the past which can address social and archaeological questions.

Field Archaeology

This module provides an in-depth introduction to archaeological fieldwork methodology, project design and organisation in real-world contexts, accompanied by a range of practical project planning and technical and analytical skills classes (such as map work, environmental sampling, stratigraphic analysis and surveying). The module also aims to develop critical approaches to evaluating archaeological methods and results, and independent research skills in data collection, evaluation and interpretation. A key component of the module is participation in the archaeological field course in the summer, involving further practical and methodological training and opportunities to act as project assistants with responsible team leader roles.

Year 3

The highlight of the final year is your dissertation: a substantial research project on a subject of special interest to you.

Option – Death, Burial and Society

The universality of the human experience of death, the presence of well-preserved bodies and artefacts in burials, and the prominence of funerary architecture and symbolism have led archaeologists to some of their most vivid encounters with past cultural worlds. In many cases, mortuary practices provide us with the richest sources of archaeological evidence for religious beliefs and social ideals, while at the same time offering insights into the life histories and deaths of individuals. This module explores the diversity and complexity of funerary ritual and representation through archaeological evidence, focusing on current approaches to the analysis of mortuary evidence and funerary monuments, and interpretative themes such as social reconstruction, identity and personhood, death ritual, status, power and cosmology. These themes are examined with reference to the wide range of anthropological, sociological and historical perspectives that underpin the inter-disciplinary character of the archaeology of death.

The module is organised in four sections, beginning with an introduction to the nature of the evidence, the diversity of mortuary practices and how funerals and the treatment of dead bodies can be interpreted (using examples from all round the world and all periods). The second part looks at the significance of the dead in the early medieval period, ranging from saints? relics to royal burials. The third section focuses on cemetery studies and the celebration of diverse person-kinds in Classical Greek and Roman burials. The last section examines body symbolism and ritual in early prehistory in relation to ideas of ancestors, spirit worlds and sacrifice. Common themes that run through all these sections include elite funerary display and identity. By the end of the module you will be able to analyse burials and monuments from a range of perspectives, and critically assess how the evidence is used for interpretative purposes in all kinds of cultural contexts.

Option - Smash the Past: breakage, violence and transformation

From the breakage and deposition of swords to human sacrifice, severed heads and tattoos, the world at and beyond the fringes of Rome was being continually reinvented and challenged by individuals and communities. In addition to broader themes of cultural evolution, these incidents of ‘breakage’ reflect moments of change that are rarely identifiable through material culture, but which can provide insights into the lives of these ‘barbarians’.

This module will explore themes and incidents of breakage, vandalism and iconoclasm within this period, and will draw parallels with earlier and more recent times, highlighting how the past has a habit of repeating itself. At the heart of the module will be a focus on moments of change and transformation and how we might begin to interpret the many potential meanings that such events could have had for past populations.

Option – Palace Societies of Minoan Crete and Mycenaean Greece

The Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations were the first literate societies in Europe. Extraordinary architectural complexes which we call palaces were the centres of administration, industry and commerce. Wide ranging trade and influence can be detected from the upper Nile valley to the Baltic sea.

In this course you have the opportunity to study the origins, floruit and demise of these extraordinary societies, their achievements in art, architecture and engineering, stone and metal working (to name but a few), their administrative records and sophisticated production systems for the surpluses of cloth and perfumed oil which helped maintain trade systems reaching across the Central and Eastern Mediterranean.

Years 2 and 3

In your second and third years you choose a seminar. Just some of our many optional seminars include

Seminar – Virtual Worlds

From computer games to gadgets; from laser scanning to 3D modelling; from Virtual Reality to Virtual Museums! In this seminar you will use some of the latest technology for creating and working with digital 3D objects, sites and landscapes. You will use laser scanners to create virtual artefacts, and will use gaming technologies to create and move within virtual environments. There are tremendous opportunities provided by new technologies for studying the past, and the practical experience that you will gain will be useful well beyond the life and limits of your degree.

Seminar – Religion and Ritual: Archaeology, Anthropology and History

This seminar will explore ritual and religion from an inter-disciplinary perspective, focusing on recent approaches to ritual action and belief in Archaeology, Anthropology and History. There will be introductory sessions on the key theoretical and interpretative frameworks (rooted mainly in anthropology, sociology and cognitive psychology), and on the origins and global history of religion. The main focus of the course will be on a series of thematic seminar topics concerned with particular kinds of practice, representations, and beliefs in supernatural beings, forces and sacred domains. These include: rites of passage; ritual drama and theatre; sacrifice; ritual violence; magic and shamanism; pilgrimage; animism and totemism; ancestor-worship; deism and theism; symbolism and iconography; cosmography; religious communities; cult, shrines and ceremonial architecture; and power and ideology.

The approach in each case is comparative and cross-cultural, drawing on a wide range of archaeological and historical case studies. These range from prehistoric Europe (Palaeolithic cave art to Iron Age human sacrifice), pre-classical and classical Greece, the western Roman Empire and early medieval Europe, to Mayan and Aztec Mesoamerica and Inca Peru. These are combined with numerous ethnographic and modern case studies from Britain, Europe, Africa, India, Polynesia, Australia, Siberia and North and South America. The themes explored in this seminar are relevant to all periods of study and all cultural contexts, and are applicable to other modules and individual research (e.g. for study tours and dissertations).

Seminar – From Stonehenge to Mycenae: the Bronze Age in Europe

This seminar explores the unique Bronze Age societies of Europe and the emergence of the first European-scale cultural identities, especially in terms of elite society, ranging from Britain to the Aegean, and from the Baltic to northern Italy. The Bronze Age is often seen as Europe’s first ‘golden age’, both aesthetically (with richly-decorated and exotic material culture), and socially (in terms of an elite culture with far-flung contacts). This seminar will focus on the following themes:

  • Elite culture and identity in the Bronze Age: visions of power and beauty
  • Funerary ritual and monuments
  • Cosmology and religion: rock art, shrines, bronze hoards and landscapes of belief
  • Metallurgy, metal artefacts, bronze exchange and value
  • Long-distance interactions and travellers (e.g. Mycenaean connections; amber route)
  • Transformations in settlement, the role of the house, and urban experiments
  • Weapons, warriors, warfare and fortified places (hillforts and ringforts)
  • Chiefs, complexity and power: the rise and fall of chiefly polities

 The course includes a hands-on museum session to examine Bronze Age copper, bronze and gold metalwork, and a field trip to explore the Stonehenge Bronze Age landscapes.

Seminar – Carthage and Rome: North Africa in Antiquity

This module will examine Phoenician, Carthaginian, native and Roman societies, cultures, art, and religions within the context of North Africa (modern Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya). It will look at the region from the creation of Phoenician colonies in the early first millennium BC to the rule of the Severan dynasty at Rome in the early third century AD. It will consider for instance:

  • Phoenician and Roman colonisation and conquest;
  • Hannibal in context;
  • what empires wanted from the native populations;
  • whether the relationship between conquerors and conquered was one of oppression and resistance;
  • whether human sacrifice occurred (and whether the Romans stopped it);
  • the creation of monumental cities such as Roman Carthage, Iol Caesarea and Lepcis Magna
  • how and why a Punic speaker from Lepcis came to rule the Roman world
  • the relationship between nomads and Roman power

In order to explore these issues we will use a wide variety of written sources, inscriptions and archaeology.

Seminar – Homer and the World of Odysseus

It has long been fashionable to explore Bronze Age Greece with Homer in hand, as Schliemann did 130 years ago. Archaeological research, however, especially in the last 30 years has given us a much clearer picture of life and achievement in Homer’s own time – the 8th and 7th centuries BC – a picture which helps us to understand much better the background Homer used for his epics, particularly the Odyssey.

Taking Homer and his near contemporary Hesiod in hand, you too will be able to explore the evidence for architecture and burials, for ironworking and craftsmanship for adventure and colonisation, and for trade and warfare. These aspects of everyday life shaped the experience of Homer’s audiences and enabled his resounding epic poetry to be accepted as real history by his hearers – even if his cast of characters belonged to a much more distant epoch.